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Marissa Lingen

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Merry merry tired and many stories [Dec. 18th, 2014|11:31 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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The thing about coming back tired from vacation into the making of holiday cheer is that there are all sorts of things that are almost but not quite slipping my mind. Entirely possible that there are all sorts of things that are completely slipping my mind, too, but I can’t remember what they are just now. I was so tired this morning that I had to stick my head back under the shower once I’d gotten out, because I couldn’t remember whether I had rinsed my hair or not, and it seemed like probably I should make sure.

Of course, I was trying to remember something like five different plot points on two stories that had come up while I was in the shower, so you can see where something like “did you perform the basic functions for which you were there” might have fallen off the bottom of the list.

Which reminds me–and thank heavens something does, because see above–that I’ve been talking on Twitter to Matthew Bennardo about working on multiple projects at once. He was feeling alone because most of the people he was asking claimed to work on only one story at once. And no, that is not me, really not, really no. I have dozens of stories in different stages of completion. I would worry about this if I didn’t write so dang many stories of different types and lengths anyway, but clearly I’m finishing stuff. Clearly I’m selling stuff. So what we call this is process, not problem.

Before I left for Montreal, Kameron Hurley had a blog post (somewhere…oh, look, here it is) called “Why I Finish All My Shit.” And I read it, and I thought, “huh, no, glad it works for you, but no.” Because yes, you have to finish stuff to learn how to finish stuff–both in the sense of completion and in the sense of making endings work. Absolutely. But there is a very strong sunk cost element here. If I get 200 or 2000 or 20000 words into a story and realize that it is just not working, forcing myself to finish its non-working self rather than writing some better story is what we call a colossal waste of time. And unless something is under contract, if one story is working and another is stalled out, for me there’s no particular reason to sit and stare at the stalled out story when I can be productive on the story that’s working.

(I’ve talked in the past about working out of sequence on longer projects–longer short stories as well as novels–and this is part of why. It works on a chapter-by-chapter basis for me, too. Why should I stare at Chapter 3 going, “Guhhhhh worrrrrrds,” when I could be humming merrily away writing Chapter 16? Yes, Chapter 3 will eventually get written, and for some people it really does have to happen chronologically. I am not one of those people.)

Look, here’s the thing. I have a chronic illness. I have chronic vertigo, and it stinks, and the meds that (sort of) work for it also stink. But one of the things it does is make me aware of limited opportunities. Of giving myself the best chance to succeed, to get things done, to even enjoy myself along the way. For some writers, sitting down and writing one story, start to finish, chronologically, and only writing another one when the first is revised and sent out, is the way to do that. That’s great for them. But it’s not my process, and it may not be your process, and that’s okay too.

If there’s one writing rule I would like to see enshrined for beginning writers everywhere, always, it’s this:

It’s okay if you don’t do it like anyone else, as long as you do it well.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-12-19 01:54 pm (UTC)
I could have written this post, including being so busy thinking in the shower that five minutes after I'm out, I'm wondering, did I rinse the shampoo out of my hair?

I've worked on several projects concurrently for years and years. With the sense of time pressing, that has become less of an idle thing and more of a determined thing.

Like you say, whatever works. But raising a hand here for "too many planes circling over the airport."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-12-19 02:08 pm (UTC)
I love your metaphor!

I think some people have more runways than others, but air traffic control still gets a little hassled if there are too many planes.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-12-19 02:15 pm (UTC)

It's now my go-to answer for the polite question "So are you working on a book?"

"Oh, yes, several--they're circling like planes over LAX!"

99.9% of the time that's more than they wanted to hear, but I've satisfied politeness. Then there is the occasional person (one every few years) who asks about specifics, and I know I can safely talk without overstepping the boundary of politeness.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-12-19 02:31 pm (UTC)
I suppose when you have several books out, this question comes up as the polite and specific form of, "Is your work going well?"

When you're published only in short form, usually people intone it as a suggestion, sometimes even as though they feel this idea will not have occurred to you. A novel! Gosh! If only I'd thought of that! Other times it's clear from context/intonation that they mean "short stories don't count, are you writing something real?"

Still, politeness is called for.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-12-19 02:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. I remember Jane Yolen talking years ago about people who asked when she was going to write a real book. Because books for children weren't real books.

There is nothing polite to say to either this or the idea that short fiction isn't the real thing; my strategy is to lob the conversational ball back to them, which usually works.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-12-19 02:42 pm (UTC)
I did not see that! Thanks for passing it along. (And good to see you "around"!)
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From: vcmw
2014-12-19 05:23 pm (UTC)
I'm still in the stage of learning my craft/process where a lot of my short story ideas just don't have the right pieces to function as stories in a way that satisfies me once I've written them. Even on draft two or three or four. And there are certainly things I learn by beating on the story through draft 11 until it finally coheres, but there are other things I learn by writing 5 other stories through 2nd draft in the same time, and I am only fitting in limited time to write at the moment. So the thought that I don't need to push every recalcitrant story to "done" is quite comforting to me. (Also it takes me so long to backbrain a story from 2nd draft to 3rd, and I can quite happily write first drafts of several stories while that is happening, so not finishing things in sequence at least right now also feels... comforting.)
Basically, this is comforting and thank you.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-12-19 05:31 pm (UTC)
Glad to help.

Seriously, if nothing was ever getting finished over a long period of time, then you worry. If you're getting a bunch of stuff done but not everything and not always in sequence? Eh, no problem.
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[User Picture]From: thanate
2014-12-22 03:27 am (UTC)
Oh goodness, yes; I'd say at least two thirds of the short stories I begin end up as >500 word fragments because there's just not enough there, or I burned off the inspiration for that idea before getting all the way through. And yet, they're still there and I flip through them from time to time and sometimes I find something glorious that I'm ready to work with again years later.

Ursula Vernon talks about rotating through projects like this, though I think her process sounds a bit different.

I've also talked to someone who says she's afraid to try novelling b/c she's never written anything she didn't finish in a sitting. Which I can't actually imagine.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-12-22 09:03 pm (UTC)
I know several people who never learned to keep anything longer in their head than they could write in one sitting because their schooling didn't demand anything more complex of them. This seems like a failure in their schooling--not everyone has to learn to like working that way, but everyone should get help early on figuring out how they work best with long complex ideas, I think, in whatever medium their long complex ideas occur.
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From: vcmw
2014-12-23 01:54 pm (UTC)
I was thinking the other day that schooling also seems (in my memory) to be fabulously bad at teaching revising (as opposed to polishing).
I had pretty decent essay teachers, but I can't recall a single assignment where we revisited an original idea / draft / formulation and took it apart because it wasn't working and then rewrote it. The whole process was geared toward assembling an idea once and then tidying up its language.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-12-23 02:42 pm (UTC)
That is true of my pre-college experience also, and substantially true of my college experience outside my department.
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